nighmen at work

My working hours I share
with owls, grave robbers, a racing moon.
Sixpence for my pains, a decent wage
I'll admit, but few have the stomach

to shovel out a long drop or privy,
load a cart with slop and solid; a wad
of crushed myrtle helping little
as I creak towards Dung Wharf,

discharge my cargo - like a vast
evacuation - into the squealing midden,
fuming with every nuance of gut.
The dog days are the worst,

when it seems, all the blue bottles
in Southwark, choose to decorate me. At least
I have my roses then, grown fat and fragrant,
with all a city can offer.

Stephen Bone

The picture is from Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor (
4 vols. 1861-62)

If you have any thoughts on this poem, Stephen Bone would be pleased to hear them.